Gridiron Genius


Michael Lombardi

Bill Walsh

  • Champions behave like champions before they’re champions

  • Obsessed with perfection - pushed everyone in orgnaization to LEARN more

  • Counter groupthink in the NFL by building a better culture

  • Seek intelligence, not necessarily experience

  • Too much experience means you might not be able to clear your head of old ideas to make room for new ideas

  • Dee Hock said the problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind; but how to get old ones out

Standard of Performance

  • Walsh’s version based off the Standard of Excellence book (In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman)

  • Promote internal communication that is open and substantive

  • Be deeply commited to learning and teaching, be fair

  • Honor the direct connection between details and improvement, relentlessly seek improvement


  • Peter Drucker said culture can eat strategy for lunch

  • Manage the culture, wins would take care of themselves

  • Can’t cookup success unless you have the right culture

Scouting/Players Development

  • See players not as a collection of data and stats, but in context of schemes they run

  • It’s lazy to grade a player without understaning the player’s role

  • Scout inside out, not outside in - analysis is informed by detailed understanding of each position defined by the scheme

Qualities of a Leader

  • Command - the room, the message, and one’s self

  • Sophocles said all men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride

  • Ultimate sign of strength is personal accountability

  • Share credit and blame alike

Command of opportunity and process

  • Bob Seger told Glenn Frey - to make it in this business, he would have to write his own songs. Frey asked, but what if they’re bad?

  • Seger told him - of course, they’re bad. Just keep writing until they’re good

  • Same is true as a coach, you learn on the fly

  • When rules don’t apply to everyone, it causes chaos

Al Davis: Scouting

  • Our job is to find talent, not dismiss it - be professional

  • Background of a draft pick is valuable - Al Davis loved good high school players because what if their collegiate production was squandered by poor coaching or a mismatch in talent/scheme

  • Focus on the level of competition - huge variation of talent in college—from program to program and conference to conference—and how not being able to compare apples to apples impacts draft evaluations

  • Davis was drawn to players who were at their best against the best

Evaluating talent

  • Confirmation bias: eager to see what we want

  • Remember to never begin with the end in mind

  • Don’t get caught up in groupthink

  • You can’t bullshit an NFL lockeroom - players know who is good and bad, who the favorites are

  • Best teams force players to prove their value

Character assessment

  • Assessing character is a challenge: too many vairables

  • Sliding scale of what is right and wrong

  • Character can only be assessed face-to-face

Belichik’s secrets

  • Performs an autopsy after every season - clean slate for all, no one is grandfathered in

  • How to tweak how we teach - take the lesson from the meeting room to the classroom to the field

  • Connect emotionally on the field, but also be objective in GM decisions

  • Everyone can have an opinion as long as there is data, insight, or experience to support it

Team building

  • Every team has a list, but Belichik’s is a living/changeable document

  • Needs change as injuries happen and skill increases, can’t ignore that

  • Contentment is the enemy

All-in mentality

  • Special teams are the heart and soul of a team

  • Herb Brooks, USA Hockey - gave all the players a test, goalie Jim Craig refused to take the test

  • Before Olympics, Brooks told Craig he might bench him and Craig though it was because he wouldn’t take the test

  • Brooks said - no, it’s because I want the guy back that wouldn’t take the test - the fire/motivation

Quarterback play

  • Walsh belives the feet were more important than the arm

  • Quick feet, quick arm. Balanced feet, balanced arm. Coordinated feet, coordinated attack.

  • Timing was everything - spacing and rhythm, it was synchronized

  • Offense was about preserving the lead than establishing it

  • Winning (and losing) are habits - Parcells’ golden rule was a QB that had at 23 wins in college

  • Yards per attempt - shows what a quarterback is seeing and where he’s looking

  • Thick skin - how do you react when something doesn’t go your way?

  • Football smarts - study and work, but also how fast can you process information

Defensive Principles

  • Belichik is not much for change, but believes in adaptation

  • Disguise is as important as defense - base that tweaks play to play based on strengths/weaknesses

  • New plays don’t win consistently, but using old plays in new ways does

  • Learn how an offense works: how, when, where, and why every player on the field moved during every play

  • Details over everything - inches in an offensive lineman’s split stance are important

  • Teach defense, don’t just coach it

  • Make the offense play left-handed - take offense out of their comfort zones by preventing them from doing what they do best

Remember Newton’s Second Law

  • Belichik likes speed: wants his team doing, not wondering what to do, reacting, not thinking

  • Hates mistakes, but if they happen it’s because his team is going fast and doing, not slow and confused

  • Pressue first, sacks second - be strategic, save certain pressure for the second half

Four-point plays

  • 3rd downs in the red zone are four-point plays - difference between a touchdown and field goal

  • Force teams to take small, harmless gains - this bring impatience and gets them to make a mistake

Middle Eight

  • Final four minutes of first half and first four minutes of second half

  • Keep offense off the field by controlling the back at end of first half and getting the ball to start the second

  • This means you get more possessions or chances to win

Talking is Winning

  • Talking is winning, especially on defense

  • Belichik removed numbers on players jerseys in practice because he wanted them to talk more during plays

Playoff gameplanning

  • Experience is not preparation.

  • Having previously played in a playoff game means nothing.

  • Belichick’s guide (1) what his team does well (2) what it doesn’t do well (3) what he thinks it will take to win the playoffs in a particular year

Hidden yards

  • Yards that don’t show up in stat sheet

  • Example: a gunner on the punt team fighting through three blocks to down the ball at the 1 instead of letting it bounce into the end zone for a touchback. It won’t show up on the stat sheet, but that guy just saved the Ravens 19 yards in a game that will be determined by inches.

Opportunity period

  • Giving practice reps to backups because it might happen

  • Colts didn’t believe that - Peyton Manning took all the reps - we don’t practice fucked, bad idea

  • Allow players to be ready

Thinking ahead

  • You’re playing against the clock too: each play takes six seconds, 54 seconds = 9 plays

  • Maximize the number of yards you can get, don’t check down

  • World class pool players make a shot and where they leave the cue ball matters almost as much as pocketing the ball

  • Missed field goals are turnovers because after a miss, you lose possession and yards

Noticing coverages and matchups

  • All a QB cares about is the middle of the field open or closed?

  • Check where safeties are - open or back, means middle of field is vulnerable - closed or forward, means ball likely going to sidelines

  • If a wideout is in motion and someone follows him, it’s man-to-man coverage - if not, it’s zone coverage

Born to run theory

  • Key to success is repetition, 10,000 hours of practice

  • But that gets boring - don’t get bored, Springsteen plays Born to Run a lot

  • Best remedy for boredom is reading and research


  • To live in the past is to die in the present.

  • J. Roscoe Miller said: I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.

  • Walsh on three F’s of decision making: firmness, fairness, fast.